The 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 is priced from $59,700 in Canada, $54,800 in the US.
This is a real appropriately raw AMG high-performance car.
The CLA is also offered in AMG-light as the 35 Coupe.
I’ve sampled a good number of AMG vehicles over the last year and a few months and despite their shared DNA, both from Mercedes-Benz and AMG, all have very distinct personalities. While I best related with the C 43 wagon and the E 63 S wagon, the one I preferred driving for the sheer pleasure of it was the CLA 45 Coupe.
There’s a playful energy about the new CLA 45 that I found to be incredibly endearing and impossible to resist. This is not to say that this car is a toy as it’s a serious high-performance automobile but unlike its all-speed-business C 63 S sibling, the CLA 45 is able to take a step back and have fun.
Playful and honest
One of the aspects I disliked the most about the C 63 S is that it’s always on. No matter the selected drive mode, the car’s responses to any and all inputs were tuned to tackle Eau Rouge flat-out when I was only out to buy milk at the corner convenience store. The CLA 45 is jazzed up too but it doesn’t take itself as seriously.
Getting into the 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 was akin to sitting behind my desk with all my tools usual arranged just the way I like them. The connection with the car was always instant perhaps because its personality and mine are identical and compatible. Prodding the start button awakens the highly explosive turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine and immediately the “fizzes” begin. The car’s electricity and liveliness travels through its controls and into the soul.
Heavy on the boost, easy on the daily
Fast is only one way to describe this CLA 45’s performance. Yes, with its 382 horsepower (at 6,500 rpm) and 354 lb.-ft. of torque (from 3,000 to 4,000 rpm), the car will reach 100 km/h from a standstill in only 4.1 seconds (equal to the C 63, 0.1 seconds slower than the S) but it’s its chassis and transmission that enable it to be a better-rounded car that the C 63 S.
First, the AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is capable of simply shifting from one cog to another nearly imperceptibly when driving around the neighborhood, unlike the C 63 S. Get on the hammer though and it immediately becomes a weapon of mass speed accumulation.
Lots of control
The second element is part of the must-have AMG Driver’s package and it is AMG RIDE CONTROL sport suspension with 3-stage adjustable dampers. Bolted on the CLA, these dampers are capable of delivering a sufficient layer of comfort to handle the worst road surfaces. They are also extremely at ease with keeping the included Michelin Pilot Sport tires in relentless contact with the road’s surface.
This enables the CLA to feel riveted to the tarmac as well and being agile, sharp, and nimble. Steering response is instantaneous, grin-inducing, and rewarding. Also included with the AMG 45 is the AMG Performance 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system which features torque control, or actual torque vectoring, furthering the car’s turn-in and speeds through apexes. I would have loved to track this car and dive deeper into its abilities.
In reality, the CLA 45 shares its unfiltered rawness with the C 63 S and the reason why it’s acceptable in the CLA is that it appeals to the 27-year-old hot-headed male in me, and I embrace it. The C 63 S takes itself too seriously.
Impossible to not stare
The 2021 Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 also happens to be inordinately attractive. Painted denim blue and fitted with the optional matte black 19-inch AMG forged cross-spoke, the CLA looks premium and mischievous at once. Also included on the test unit was the Aerodynamics packages however I would skip this option.
Once aboard the CLA 45, the business of getting down to driving becomes an extension of oneself. The driving position is tailored to the task at hand, all the more so with the available AMG Performance seats, as fitted in the test car. The AMG Driver’s package also includes a Nappa/Dynamica AMG Performance steering wheel meaning that the driver is in complete control.
When not driving hard, the CLA 45 will entertain with its standard MBUX and twin 10.25-inch screens which look extremely modern and sporty. Although the column-shifter might not be the definition of cutting-edge, the remainder of the dashboard puts on a show of its own starting with the superb air vents. Throughout, the attention to detail, fit and finish are worthy of the Mercedes-Benz crest.
It’s fantastic but it’s not a station wagon
The new second-generation Mercedes-Benz CLA Coupe is far more refined and better put together than the car it replaces. I’d driven the previous CLA 45 and it was nowhere near as civilized as a daily-driver as the new 2021 car. The older platform, much like for the C 63 S, was at fault.
At this price point (as tested, nearly $77,000, $59,700 base), there are various options that present themselves. The Audi RS 3 and BMW M2 come to mind immediately as do slightly lesser-powered midsize cars such as the Audi S4, Mercedes-AMG C 43 (sedan and wagon), BMW M340i, to name a few. Among all of these, there are no wrong choices.
I perused the gallery as I wrote this review and was reminded how beautiful this car is. No matter however as, for the price, there can be only one option: my beloved Mercedes-AMG C 43 wagon.